How to master Taboola and Outbrain to drive app growth

Welcome to another edition of MAMA Boards, an AppsFlyer video project featuring leading mobile marketing experts on camera.

For today’s mini whiteboard master class, we have Sandra Wu, Paid Content Marketing Lead at Blinkist, a leading book-summarizing subscription service with million of users.

Sandra walks us through in detail what it takes to make Taboola and Outbrain drive scale and performance for your app. Their reach can be massive, but getting this channel to work is a challenge.

Real experts, real growth. That’s our motto.



Hi, everyone, welcome to another edition of MAMA Boards by AppsFlyer. My name is Sandra Wu. I’m the Paid Content Marketing Lead at Blinkist, which is an app that summarizes key insights, from nonfiction books. So you can read as many of them as you can. And today, I’m going to talk to you about one of my favorite topics, which is how to master Outbrain and Taboola to grow your app.

What exactly is Outbrain and Taboola? Well, you might not be familiar with their names.

But if you’ve read an article online, you’ve been exposed to one of their ads, they control the section underneath articles, under ‘you may like’ or ‘from around the world’. And if you click on any of these ads, you will leave the current website you’re on and go to an article, a landing page or possibly even the App Store. And the aim is to convert you while you’re in that reading mode. And right now, they have a portfolio of over 10,000 publishers, the likes of BBC, CNN, The Guardian, New York Times, so network is really vast.

Let me put it this way: If Facebook and Instagram gives you everyone who is active on social media, Outbrain and Taboola gives you those who are reading news online. And depending on the age group of your target audience, the latter might actually give you more reach.

One of the main reasons that I advocate going after these channels, is that it’s a really good way to diversify your marketing mix.

At Blinkist, about four or five years ago, we used to be really reliant on Facebook. And that’s no longer the case. This is our current marketing mix. And what you notice here is that it’s very evenly distributed across five or six big channels. And Outbrain and Taboola is pretty much on par with Facebook and Instagram.

Another reason that I would recommend going after these channels, is that there’s such high barriers to entry. And that’s because it’s so hard to get these channels right. I only know about a dozen advertisers who are able to make it work for performance, which may sound like it’s really daunting to tackle these channels.

But that also means is really not that competitive compared to Facebook or AdWords.


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So why is this so difficult to get these channels working?

Well, the number one reason is that most people have the wrong expectations.

They’re thinking, I’m going to launch some campaigns on Outbrain and Taboola. And in about a week’s time, things will start working, and I can start thinking about actually scaling these channels. That’s really not the case. What you should be expecting it’s actually weeks or months of hard work.

Typically I would recommend that, in the first test budget around ten thousand, and then pick two or three articles, run a few campaigns for maybe two weeks, the numbers will be horrible, but that’s okay. Because you’re going to take these campaigns offline, and then you will try to figure out what exactly, is the weakest part of your funnel, and then figure out a few tests to actually improve these numbers.

When you’re ready, launch another set of campaigns, budget another 10K, and try to conclude some of these tests and see if you’re moving the needle at all with any of these tests. And then take these campaigns offline again, do some analysis and you just basically repeat this process for another few weeks or months.

For us, actually that took about six months before we actually saw positive results. This chart here describes what the first 14 months at Blinkist was. For us when we launched Outbrain and Taboola.

The green line represents ROI, which is our metric to optimize towards, and the blue bar is Spend. And what you can see in the first six month is that performance was really relatively flat and numbers didn’t look great at all. And in the seventh month, actually, things are looking a little bit better.

But it wasn’t until about like a year, after we launched the first campaign, where we started catching up to Facebook. So it did take a while. So just make sure you have the right expectations. This is not going to work overnight, but that’s okay.

The second reason why it’s so hard to get these channels right, is that most people don’t advertise the right content. So with Blinkist all of our ads lead to our magazine, so we use this content marketing flow. And a lot of apps out there do this as well. However, most of these apps would just think about recycling whatever works on Facebook.

They’re thinking, “Oh, these taglines work really well on Facebook, let me just turn that into an article.”

And that’s really the wrong approach, because Outbrain and Taboola and Facebook, they’re completely different animals.

So with Facebook, there’s really advanced targeting, like lookalike, or interest targeting. So you don’t necessarily have to get your message perfect, you’ll still reach the right people. On the other hand, with Outbrain and Taboola, the targeting is very broad. So you gonna make sure that your headline attracts exactly the right people. So I would say just forget whatever creative you have on hand, that works for other channels, and just start from scratch and think about what headlines and article angles would actually work for you.

And there are some questions you can ask, like, “Why does your app exist?” or “What is the mission that you’re trying to achieve?” or possibly even, “Why should people pick you over the competition?” so these are really good questions to ask to get you thinking about what headlines will actually work with your target audience.

And I think everything will be quite easy from there.

The third reason why it’s so hard, to get these channels working, is that most people just don’t make the right conclusions. Remember when I said the first campaigns were supposed to be disastrous. Well, most people don’t take that as a challenge. They’re more thinking, wow, these numbers are so horrible. I don’t wanna have anything to do with these channels. They just don’t work for my product. And that’s a mistake, because they’re supposed to figure out what exactly went wrong.

Identifying the problem

So you have the funnel here where people will click on Outbrain and Taboola ad, they will land in the magazine, and then off to the App Store.

Which part is the problem?

Is it the CTR, or the signup rate, or possibly something else like the purchase rate. With the CTR it’s easy to influence. So you just got to figure out if the titles and images you use were good enough. If not, you can think about including different buzz words, maybe thinking about different article angles you can try.

And with images, you can think about black and white, maybe including food or animals in your photos, or depending on the season maybe you want to consider outdoor or indoor images.

If it’s a signup rate that, you’re struggling with, then you got to think about doing everything you can to make sure that the article converts the best possible. So this is where we focus, most of our efforts at Blinkist on. And we do things like evaluating everything, we’ve written in the article, and thinking about how we can actually add more value. To convince the reader to be able to convert more.

We also think about different layouts so we can increase, we can improve the user experience, for example. We also have tried a lot of tests, on just working on our call to actions. I will probably not focus too much on trying to convert people at every opportunity, because this is a reading experience. So this is not a banner ad, where you would have multiple buttons to trick people into clicking. And you can also think about maybe different designs, so that people would perceive your product in a more positive way.

If something else is the problem, like purchase rate, that’s something that you might want to tackle with the rest of your team, and it might not be unique to Outbrain and Taboola.

So do you also struggle with this with Facebook?

If that’s the case, then you want to figure out, maybe you want to try different pricing models, or a different onboarding experience inside the app. But if you want some benchmarks to work with, I’ve had a lot of experience working with different companies.

And I would say that the benchmarks, you can, probably compare it to Facebook. So I would say the signup rate is around 10% lower compared to Facebook, because there’s an extra step in the funnel which is the article, but that’s okay, because it pays off in the purchase rate which will be around 20% higher.


Mainly because people have read 800 words about your product, they’re more convinced that they should actually try out the whole thing. Versus if people just go straight to the App Store and then they convert there.

Bottom line

So the bottom line is, these channels are not easy to get right. You’re gonna have to do a lot of testing over several weeks, even months, but that’s okay. Because once you do get it right, it’s going to pay off big.

You’ll see that a lot of people, recognize your brand because they see it everywhere. And you might actually be able to use a lot of the content on other channels and help them expand as well. So this really is the gift that keeps on giving. That’s it for today. For more MAMA Boards just click here. Thank you for watching and goodbye. So good it’s done.

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